The renowned and often illusive mixologist and artist Matt Bax (Bar Americano, Bar Economico & Bar Exuberante) revealed his secrets to mastering classic cocktails at an Essentials class at the most recent Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. On the merit of going back to the classics “it’s like cooking, once you get the essentials down it gives you the ability to make a lot more drinks. In principal it’s very, very simple but it’s funny how difficult it is to find a good drink and also to make a good drink at home”. Find his tips to becoming a master home bartender below…
Matt’s 10 items essential for a basic home bar
60ml and 30ml jiggers, a long handled barspoon, ice moulds, shaker tins, hawthorne strainer (for shaken drinks), julep strainer (for stirred drinks), old fashioned glass, highball glass, mixing glass, cocktail glass. Try Cocktail Kingdom for your next supply run.
Matt’s 13 bottle bar at home
Gin, Blanco Rum, Cognac, Anejo Rum, Gold Rum, Bourbon Whisky, Rye Whiskey, Italian Vermouth, French Vermouth, Blanco Tequila, Campari, Angostura Bitters, Orange Curacao. Quasi-controversially he reckons you don’t need vodka at all (as it doesn’t taste of much and he prefers ingredients that add something to a drink) and Scotch Whiskey is nice to have on hand (but better to drink neat).
– The bigger the glass the warmer your drink will get before you drink it. Particularly important to for stiffer (ie. boozier) drinks.
– You can never have enough ice handy. Especially nice big cubes.
– Serving drinks in jars isn’t just trying to be hip. It’s an easy way to pre-make drinks for mass consumption at house parties. Just add ice and shake. (Matt suspects he and Joost Bakker were among the 1st to do this.)
– Bitters really only matter in simpler drinks
– The undisguised taste of alcohol is in at the moment.
– Enjoy the process of making other people have fun (as important as the drinks themselves are).
– You should start out learning (and experimenting with) these five cocktails: the Negroni, the Manhattan, the Pisco Sour, the Mojito and the Americano below.
Matt Bax’s Essential Americano
Unsurprisingly, Matt explains, this is the signature drink of Bar Americano. Classic cocktails are essentially American. Europeans went over to America in the 1920s/30s and tried cocktails for the first time, returned home, and described them as ‘American drinks’. American style bars (like the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice) then began popping up. The drink itself started out as a combination of Campari and Vermouth and was first dubbed the Milano-Torino. It became so popular with Americans that they started referring to it as the name we know today.
Italian Vermouth 30ml (the dark stuff)
(or cheat and buy Bar Americano’s pre-bottled Americano mix from the bar, which contains a secret formula of various vermouths, including a house version)
1 wedge of lemon
Slice lemon zest from rind of your lemons wedge. Fill a highball glass with block ice. Pour in 90ml of pre-bottled Americano or equal parts Campari and Vermouth. Add a splash of soda water. Run lemon zest over the rim of the glass, twist over drink to release oils and add to glass. Drink before dinner.